What a relief. Welcome to the anxiety inducing act that is writing about someone’s neighborhood. Each sentence I wrote about Scotland made me wonder about who I’d met. How would the B&B owners react? What about the people I walked with? Would the litter picker ever read his part of my story? Would they ever let me back into the country? Finally, a review from Scotland. I breath again.
I envy fiction writers. They can say anything and toss it off as made up and unrelated to any specific individual or circumstance. They even include that in the close of almost every movie. To write honestly and openly meant I couldn’t take such luxuries or license. (I’m also amazed by fiction writers. Keeping track of a bit of my life is much easier than keeping track of webs of fictions, creating depths of characters, and including just the right level of chaos for that feeling of reality. I’ll stick to my notes.)
This isn’t the first time I dealt with such an issue. Just Keep Pedaling had the same issue stretched across eleven weeks and a continent. Discretion is a handy skill. It’s also a sign of respect for those I’ve met. They didn’t expect or intend to end up in a book. Notice, I don’t name names.
Early in the trip, and early in the writing, I knew that I’d say things that folks would find laughable, or that I’d stumble across some taboo. Rather than hide it or work aggressively to avoid it, I realized that those rough bits are what travel is about.
For me, travel is not an uninterrupted sequence of sanitized events scripted out along an itinerary. A squeaky clean trip sounds like a spectator event that could equally well be enjoyed at home by watching a movie with popcorn by my side. My trips aren’t exactly hazardous adventures, but they are filled with opportunities for chance to introduce me to something new. Sometimes it’s a shower so dirty that I don’t want to touch the sides. Sometimes it’s a B&B that appears as a blessing just as I am convinced I’ll have to sleep under a bush.
Because I venture into the real country and avoid the tourist sites, I meet the real people. Without learning what to expect from a brochure, I see where and how they live. I miss things. After I returned home I learned that I walked through a resort town or three without knowing that I walked through destinations. I like that because that also tells me that the small towns that no one talked about, and that seemed just as nice, were probably the places I’d return to and enjoy without having to deal with facades or elevated prices.
As the first US reviewer put it, “This book kept me totally engaged. Unlike a slick Hollywood style account of this journey, this was so real, and I loved it!” Yeah! But what would a Scot think? “A pleasant stroll through the country with the gift of seeing it as a visitor sees it. He gets the weather and changes spot on.” Whew. All of those days walking in the mist and rain, and then writing about it, came through.
Looking in the mirror is uncommon enough, yet even when we do, we don’t notice the incremental changes that carry us from looking for acne to looking for wrinkles. I enjoy watching tourists walk through my town. They see a different place that of course is the same locale. They react to different things, dwell at places I walk by, and skip the bits I think are the best. They find the new that I overlook. Undoubtedly I do the same when I travel. Sometimes that’s the only way to get that view, is to use someone else’s eyes. And I’m glad that when I spoke through my writing, what the locals heard was right enough, yet different enough, to make us both enjoy the story. Thanks for speaking back.